The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is likely before the year is over to mark up legislation that would authorize the seizure of Russian sovereign assets to finance Ukraine’s reconstruction, according to the panel’s top Republican and bill sponsor.
Momentum is gradually building for passage of bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would encourage the State Department to confiscate billions of dollars in Russian state deposits that were frozen in U.S. banks as punishment for Moscow’s full-scale 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said Thursday about a markup. “Certainly this year.”
Risch is the sponsor of the Senate counterpart (S 2003) to legislation (HR 4175) from House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas. The committee last week approved the House bill by a 40-2 vote.
While only a small portion of the roughly $300 billion in Russian state assets held by Western countries is understood to be frozen in U.S. banks, experts say U.S. leadership is needed to prod European governments to follow suit in confiscating and liquidating Russian reserves to benefit Ukraine.
“The reason I am cautiously optimistic is, it is a proposition that has wide support, near unanimous support, and it’s just a matter of knocking the rough edges off of it,” Risch said, declining to get into detail about what issues remain to be ironed out with Committee Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md. “We’re negotiating that right now.”
The legislation would explicitly authorize the Biden administration to confiscate frozen Russian state assets and transfer them to a special fund for Ukraine’s reconstruction. It would further prohibit the administration from releasing those assets to Moscow until Russian President Vladimir Putin has withdrawn Russian forces from Ukraine and agreed to pay war damages. That prohibition would stay in place regardless who occupies the White House in 2025.
Kyiv estimates the cost of rebuilding Ukraine will be about $400 billion or more.
“As we discuss Ukraine and we think down the road about rebuilding Ukraine, I think there’s an important point to make, which is this should not be done solely on the backs of American taxpayers or European taxpayers,” said Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Ukraine last week, urging support for the Risch bill. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
Testifying before the committee, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien said he agreed with Ricketts that the U.S. and its allies should consider “all options” to ensure the Russian government and not U.S. taxpayers are stuck with the bill for rebuilding Ukraine.